BT phone booths link to Internet

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The Independent Online
TELEPHONE BOOTHS from which you can surf the Web will appear on Britain's high streets from next March, in what British Telecom describes as an attempt to encourage an "online society".

The company is to set up 2,500 multimedia phone booths, equipped with a normal phone but also a 10in touch-sensitive screen in the centre of the unit. Using them, people will be able to pick a free e-mail address from BT, download or print their e-mail from many other internet accounts, and view websites on a pay-as-you-go basis using a phone or credit card.

The most likely venues for the first booths, which are now being tested to see how well they resist vandalism, are railway stations, motorway service stations and shopping malls. They will look much like ordinary BT phone booths, but with a screen that turns on when the phone is picked up.

Instead of a keyboard, there will be pictures of keys on the screen, which can be typed on. The booths will also use a special web-browser program, which is being developed for this use by BT and another company. However, neither Microsoft nor Netscape, whose programs are best known to PC users of the Web, are understood to be involved.

John Swingewood, director of BT Internet services, said the booths "will bring all the benefits of the Internet to the general public". This year has already seen a sharp rise in the number of Britons connected to the Internet, with the total number of users estimated at 9 million - double that of two years ago.

BT said the new booths will allow people to pick up e-mail from BT or web-based services without having to carry a computer with them. "The point about the Internet is not the technology, it's the information that you can get out of it," said a spokesman.